WICKER PARK — Though the Wicker Park Farmers Market got off to a slow start in June, it picked up legions of loyal fans during its near five-month season, and with the final market coming Sunday, many shoppers gave their thanks to the farmers.
"The greenhouse tomatoes were out of this world," Jane Wenger told Kaela Rigterink, from LaPorte, Ind.-based Iron Creek Farm on Sunday.
Wenger said she loves putting tomatoes from Iron Creek on fresh pasta, which she purchases from another vendor, Pasta Pappone, where she bought $40 worth of pasta to "stock up for the winter."
Rigterink said cherry and beefsteak tomatoes were her family farm's best-selling items for most of the summer, though sweet potatoes, which made their introduction in recent weeks, along with squash and pumpkins, were big hits, too.
After buying Brussels sprouts from Iron Creek Farms, Wicker Park resident Jessie Weingartner was picking through garlic cloves in a bin at Frank Farms' table.
"I will miss it," the 26-year-old business operations manager said of her frequent visits to the market.
Weingartner said she plans to put the sprouts in a slow cooker with sea salt and olive oil for about five hours until the sprouts "get really soft. "
Holding 8 ounces of aged goat Gouda cheese that she'd just purchased from Stamper Cheese Company, Ravenswood resident Karen Goldstein said she's "very sad" that the market is ending soon.
For Ukrainian Village resident Emily Blum, the assortment of Shiitake and Portobello mushrooms she was purchasing from Burlington, Wis.-based River Valley Ranch would be put to immediate use inside a baked acorn squash to enjoy during the afternoon's Bears game.
River Valley Ranch's Alison Dowdla said that while mushrooms are popular, prepared jars of spicy olive bruschetta spread "took over" as the farm's best-selling item in recent weeks.
"It's one of my favorites, so I talk about it a lot," Dowdla joked of the spread, which is $6 per jar. The ranch sells spinach and artichoke dips, too.
At Stamper Cheese's booth, a vendor said cheese curds at $6 per bag were the most popular cheese product, while Joe Conant from Brunkow Cheese said fresh mozzarella cheese was "a big hit" and for good reason: it's last call.
"Mozzarella follows the tomato season, and the first frost kills the tomatoes," Conant said, explaining that people like to eat fresh mozzarella cheese with tomatoes. The Darlington, Wis., cheese maker stops making the cheese when tomato season ends.
By far, the fastest-moving product Sunday appeared to be $5 half-gallons of apple cider.
Within about 30 minutes, several gallons of apple cider disappeared from Seedling Orchard's table, leaving only one half gallon of pear cider by 11 a.m. Sunday, two hours before the close of the market.
Seedling Orchard sells eight varieties of apple and pear cider and 23 varieties of apples.
With so many apples to choose from, Seedling Orchard's Mike McNamara said Valstar apples "narrowly beat out" Honeycrisp for being shopper's No. 1 apple variety.
"It's Honeycrisp without the price," he said of Valstar, which at $3 for a pint yields about five apples, whereas the pricier Honeycrisp runs $5 per pint and offers three or four apples.
Those hoping for a fruit fix won't find it from Seedling Orchard at the market's final day Sunday, due to the farm's annual harvest party for its workers, but McNamara said Seedling plans to be at the Green City Market inside the Nature Museum at 2430 N. Cannon Drive in Lincoln Park throughout the winter.
When Wicker Park Farmers Market ends Sunday, the nearest market will be Logan Square Farmers Market at 2755 N. Milwaukee Ave. in the former Pierre Bakery building. The market runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday from Nov. 3 until March 30 and also will include The Nosh, a weekly food festival.